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We are planning on taking one of our family train vacations on Amtrak this summer, so I thought that I would do a brief overview of how Amtrak works and why it might be a great option for family train vacations.  This is the first of a series of posts on Amtrak and why they can make sense for unforgettable family train vacations.

Amtrak is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards

The fact that Amtrak is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards is the first point to mention.  Without it, we would not even be having this discussion.  If you’re looking to book family train vacations on Amtrak and you’re paying out of pocket, you might as well just stop right now because it’s not worth it.  We are talking several thousands of dollars, just for a train ride of a day or so, and I think that puts Amtrak family train vacations out of the reach of most people.

But with points, family train vacations become that much more affordable! This is one of the reasons Chase Ultimate Rewards are the best points out there!

(SEE ALSO: Chase Ultimate Rewards: 5 reasons I think they’re the best miles out there)

Find out how we took an Amtrak train trip that could have cost $6500... FOR FREE!

Amtrak blackout dates

There are a few blackout dates where you can’t use points for family train vacations, mostly around holidays.  For 2015, those blackout dates are:

  • Jan 2-4, 2015
  • Feb 13, 2015, Feb 16, 2015 (President’s Day weekend)
  • April 2, 3 and 6, 2015 (Easter weekend)
  • May 22 and May 25, 2015 (Memorial Day weekend)
  • July 2-3 and July 5, 2015
  • Sep 4 and Sep 7, 2015 (Labor Day weekend)
  • Oct 12, 2015 (Columbus Day)
  • Nov 24-25 and Nov 28-29 (Thanksgiving)
  • Dec 19-23 and Dec 26-30, 2015, as well as Jan 2-3, 2016 (Christmas and New Year’s)

This actually burned us.  Our original planned routes and dates had us going from Toledo to Denver on Jun 23, and from Denver to Toledo on July 1st (NOT a blackout date).  But because the Denver to Chicago route is an overnight route, and we have to switch trains in Chicago, that Chicago-Toledo train left on July 2nd, which meant that we could NOT book that with points 🙁

Maximizing the Amtrak Zone Map


Amtrak divides up the United States into zones.  There are 3 zones (Western, Central and Eastern) as well as a mini-zone (Northeast) which is both part of the Eastern zone as well as its own zone.

Here are the redemption rates for family train vacation travel using Amtrak Guest Rewards


My $6500 train fare

The best part about the bedrooms is that on most trains (the Superliner trains) they have what they call a Family Bedroom, which sleeps 4 people.  So for us (a family of 8), we were able to book just 2 bedrooms.  For roundtrip travel within one zone (Toledo to Denver), that cost us 100,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points (transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards).  Compare that to the 200,000 airline miles it would take to fly the 8 of us there (unless we used something like the Citi AAdvantage Reduced Mileage Awards) and you can see that train travel

Plus as Jason Steele said in his presentation at the Family Travel for Real Life conference, KIDS LOVE TRAINS!

Compare it also to the cash price for those tickets – $6,540.00 (!)


Yikes!  That’s a redemption value of 6.54 cents per point, if you care about those kind of things (I don’t particularly)

The other awesome thing about booking a family bedroom is that because it’s considered a “premium” seat, all your meals are included.  So we’ll have breakfast, then miss out on lunch (due to the layover in Chicago), but have dinner and then breakfast the next day.  On the return trip, we’ll get dinner, breakfast, lunch and then dinner again.

So included in our ticket price are 56 meals (7 meals * 8 people) plus sleeping accommodations for 2 nights!  Not bad for only 100,000 Chase points!

As I mentioned above, that picture does not depict our exact route since we got bit by the blackout dates, but we did end up booking something similar.  We are going this summer and I’ll be sure to post again with a review!

Have you ever taken the train for family train vacations?  Let me know in the comments

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